The time has come. Thirty-two teams began the 2015-16 NFL season and now only two remain. From Charlotte come the Panthers, riding proud on a record of 15-1 in the regular season. To reach their second Super bowl, they routed Seattle and crushed Arizona. The only thing that stands between them and the Vince Lombardi trophy are the Broncos, the untamed powerhouse riding down from their throne a mile in the sky. They proved stronger than the Steelers and toppled the Patriots to step onto the field at Super Bowl for the eighth time.
Before we get into predictions. Let’s look at the teams, their Super Bowl histories and their records against one another.
The Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers joined the NFL in 1995 as the league’s 29th franchise. They finished their first season with a 7-9 record, the best of any expansion team in their respective first seasons. They then proceeded to go 12-4 in their second season, before losing to eventual Super Bowl champions Green Bay in the NFC Championship game. Since their first season in ’95, they have racked up six division titles, two NFC Championships, seven playoff appearances and one Super Bowl appearance.
At the start of the 2015 season, they used their five draft picks to mainly shore up a number of offensive gaps and posted a 3-1 record in the pre-season. Then the magic began. Jacksonville, Houston, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Tennessee, Washington and Dallas all fell to the might of the Panthers. An 11-0 season was extended to 14-0 with victories against New Orleans once more, Atlanta and New York (Giants). The Panthers only stumbled when in week 16, when they were tripped up by Atlanta in a heated divisional match-up. However, thrashing Tampa Bay the following week put the Panthers at a regular season of 15-1. In a repeat of last season’s divisional playoff, Carolina faced Seattle and routed the Seahawks, even going 31-0 at half time. Similarly, they held off Arizona with ease in the NFC Championship Game, earning a place in Super Bowl 50.
What was this due to? Carolina has very few weaknesses, able to execute a number of play styles with ease. Defences are strained and over-worked as the Panthers display excellent short and medium passing, great inside runs and a near unstoppable goal-line offense. They are also expertly commanded by energetic quarterback, Cam Newton, who is a calm and commanding presence on the field. Carolina is also incredibly versatile. When Newton’s favoured passing target, Kevin Benjamin, was side-lined due to a torn ACL, Newton quickly developed on-field chemistry with rookie Devin Funchess. That versatility has proved crucial to the Panthers success this season.
The Denver Broncos are an NFL staple, joining the American Football League in 1960 and becoming an NFL team in the AFL-NFL merger of 1970. In their 46 year NFL history, they have racked up twenty-two playoff appearances; fifteen division titles, eight conference championships, eight Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl titles.
The Broncos had a strong start to the season, going 7-0 before dropping two games and going onto rack up another five wins and two losses. Crucially, they only lost twice to division rivals and so managed to take the AFC West with relative ease. After a Wild Card bye, Denver saw off the Pittsburgh Steelers before coming face to face with their old AFC rivals, the mighty New England Patriots. Due to a string of poor performances, Denver had actually finished with a better seeding than the Patriots and on Sunday, they showed them who was boss with a tight two-point win on their home turf.
And what do they have to thank for this? Second-string quarterback Brock Osweiler. It must be hard to be the back-up for a legend like Peyton Manning but Osweiler did it with style. According to reports from inside the Broncos, Osweiler turned up to every training session, attended every strategy and quarterback’s meeting and essentially clung to Manning like a shadow. And it paid off as when Manning got injured nine games into the season, it was Osweiler who took up the mantle of leading the offence. Even Manning is saying that the Broncos should begin to field Osweiler as their starting quarterback. The Broncos also boast a great running defence and specialise in digging in and slowly working their way up the field, always careful and always cautious.
Carolina vs Denver
Being in different conferences and with a 24 year gap in their NFL runs, it isn’t surprising that the two teams have only met four times prior to Super Bowl 50. Denver currently leads the series 3-1 and in fact caused to Carolina to be shut out of their first meeting, which Denver won 31-0.
Super Bowl 50
Super Bowl 50 will certainly be an interesting matchup. The two sides don’t exactly meet each other’s weaknesses with their personal strengths. Denver may struggle to hold back the unstoppable tide of the Cam Newton offence but could capitalise on Carolina’s biggest weakness, which is deep passing plays. While Denver does lead Carolina in terms of previous match ups, the teams haven’t met since 2012 and both are very different sides.
My prediction: This could go either way. Denver is Denver but their last Super Bowl was an utter disaster and Carolina truly is the team to beat this year.